NOTE: The following editorial about the death of President John F. Kennedy and its potential effect on Letcher County and the rest of southeastern Kentucky was written by editor and publisher Tom Gish. It appeared in the Nov. 21, 1963 edition of The Mountain Eagle under the headline “A tragic loss.”. The paper was two days late that week because of a family illness and the death of Gish’s father the week before.
Eastern Kentucky shares with the nation a sense of tragic loss and shame because of the assassination of President Kennedy, but also a more personal feeling of loss. The mountains lost a true friend, whose qualities of leadership, whose ability to see and to understand and to respond to the needs of a poverty-stricken people, had given grounds for hope where hope had all but disappeared.
Kennedy’s death came only a few hours after he had decided to visit eastern Kentucky early next month for a personal look at the area and its problems, and to talk face-to-face with jobless and despairing coal miners and their families.
Kennedy planned to come here on December 6, for a trip that probably would have taken him into the Cloverfork section of Harlan County, then up the Cumberland River for a firsthand look at the effect of strip mining along Black Mountain, then into Letcher County for a visit here and for a look at the devastation caused by strip mining on Beefhide, and then on into Pike County and a visit to the Hellier section there.
He would have brought a message of faith and hope to the people of eastern Kentucky — and he would have brought with him key members of his administration, to further acquaint them with our needs and problems. Further, Mr. Kennedy hoped that by focusing the nation’s attention upon eastern Kentucky and its problems he would be able to hasten the day of effective Congressional action in our behalf.
His visit to eastern Kentucky would have been historic and without precedent, and it well could have been the key that unlocked the door to progress in the area — the kind of progress that some day would have permitted the area to take its rightful place in the nation with a just share of national prosperity and freedom from want and despair.
And so the loss to eastern Kentucky is beyond measure. But we find solace in the knowledge that the President had a deep feeling for the poor of eastern Kentucky and indeed the poor everywhere and was in the process of expressing his concern through action.
Mr. Kennedy’s winter relief program, announced only a few days ago, was but a beginning — an emergency action designed to see that no child of the Kentucky mountains goes hungry or cold through the winter. We can only hope that President Johnson, in the name of humanity, will see that this program is carried out — as he surely will.
Much has been and will be said about the death of the President. As we see it, it doesn’t much matter whether the fatal shot was fired by a communist or by a fanatic of the extreme right or by some civil rights nut.
Mr. Kennedy died because of one reason — he believed in first class citizenship for everyone, a first class citizenship embracing all the privileges of living as an American. It may be he died because he believed Cubans were entitled to liberty, equality and a democratic way of life. Maybe he died because he regarded the Buddhists of Vietnam as human beings entitled to rights and privileges. Or maybe he died because he insisted upon first class citizenship for the American Negro. In any event, he died because he was opposed to tyranny, because he believed in the dignity of man — of his race, creed, color, religion or nationality.
Mr. Kennedy died because he was an American in the proudest sense of the word — something, it appears, it is un-American to be these days.